Sales is a great first job to get out of college for the lessons it teaches. A new salesperson quickly experiences rejection, learns they are not as good as they thought they were, and gets a real understanding that their path is not going to be an easy one. The market chews them up and spits them out, and there is very little they can do about it.
I can say this because I recently completed two years of sales experience and learned these lessons the hard way. To find a semblance of success, I had to set my ego aside and modify my expectations.
This introduction to sales taught me five lessons that helped me overcome roadblocks, penetrate gatekeepers, and settle into the workforce:
1. Education Doesn’t Equal Performance
Like most recent graduates I felt prepared to conquer the world right out of college and was confident I could understand anything I set my mind to. Fresh off the high of achieving my academic goals, I realized within days that there was a small problem – the skillset did not translate.
As great of a job formal education does to expand your mind and teach you new thought patterns, it is very theoretical. When it comes to practically applying that knowledge, young professionals often find themselves underprepared. This disconnect is a result of the way their performance is measured – A student is evaluated based on a test, which is predictable and objective.
A salesperson is evaluated on their sales numbers, which has a lot of built in unpredictability. On top of that, the execution of a sales call is much more difficult to objectively quantify. Due to this, when a young professional first finds themself in a sales environment, they are vulnerable to their inexperience in that setting and their performance suffers.
A technique that helps me be more confident in this new arena is role-playing. Simulating an unpredictable environment has been a great exercise for me because it has provided me with experience in this new setting.
2. Know How to Be Old-Fashioned
A fundamental part of sales is meeting your customer at their level. Young salespeople often come across targets who prefer traditional business practices and struggle with selling to them. Choosing to match a customers’ old-fashioned demeanor helps relate with them because it aligns with how they are accustomed to doing business.
A few things that worked for me. First, whenever possible, I choose to write things down with pen and paper. This action resonates with customers who are slower to adopt technology. On top of that, following up with hard copies may better meet your customer’s expectations and fit into their decision making workflow.
Along with taking written notes, I also make a point to overdress for the occasion, arrive early, be clean-shaven, and use titles when addressing people. Taking steps to be old-fashioned is conducive to doing business with tenured customers because it works against the prejudices the customer might have about millennials.
“A smart salesperson listens to emotions not facts.”
3. Understand Emerging Technology
Today’s young professionals grew up in the exciting age of the digital revolution. This means that young salespeople are expected to be early adopters of new workplace technologies and have a high technological competency. While it is true that young professionals may have a better intuition for the technology, it still takes a good deal of additional work to be informed.
I quickly realized not only that I should pay special attention to the latest workplace tech, but that I needed to proactively learn it to meet expectations. As expected I became the default resource whenever there was a technical issue or question, and in an operating room setting, it was a particularly important role to hold.
I used this responsibility to my advantage by taking it as an opportunity to be valuable. I spent additional time learning the nuances of the technology so that I was confident in my execution when people turned to me for answers. As a young salesperson it is important to understand others’ expectations of your technological competency because any opportunity to add value is a sales opportunity.
4. Constant Judgment
Young salespeople are very affected by this – there is an association between youth and immaturity in the workplace, and colleagues pay close attention to the behavior of their younger counterparts. I concede that this connection between maturity and years might be fair, and as a result young professionals are given a different threshold for how much their behavior will be tolerated.
I understand that there is a fine line between personal and professional settings after hours, but it is best practice for young professionals to be conservative to avoid negative judgment in casual settings. When I am around coworkers I always try to stay “turned on,” meaning that I take precautions to act appropriately. I limit my drinks, defer contentious conversational topics, and avoid workplace controversy and gossip. It is part of our reality that young professionals need to come to terms with.
However, judgment exists differently in a professional setting. Instead of being evaluated on the appropriateness of your behavior, young professionals are judged on their competency and ability to contribute. The most effective way to be viewed as a positive contributor is by displaying confidence, both in the quality of your work and in the way you carry yourself.
“Most people think “selling” is the same as “talking”. But the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job.” – Roy Bartell
5. Own Your Youth
A young salesperson should definitely use their age to their advantage. Young professionals offer a unique perspective, skill-set, and way of operating that is invaluable to any business. Leaning into those qualities is the best thing a young salesperson can do because it offers a truly unique value proposition.
If employing this, it is first critical for a young salesperson to address their age and be transparent about their experience level before being exposed of it. This approach disarms customers by handling their first objection without them having to ask it, and conveys respect through humility. I have found customers are much more receptive to hearing my message after ground-rules have been set and this deference has been established.
Also, something young professionals should leverage is their colleagues’ interest in their exciting young lifestyles. What works particularly well is using major life events to build rapport and relate to customers. Talking about buying a house, getting married, or having a child begins a conversation that becomes an opportunity to advance the relationship.